Pearson files copyright infringement lawsuit against Chegg, Inc.
On September 13, in what will have a potentially serious impact on the academic publishing industry, specifically as it relates to online supplemental materials and study guides, Pearson Education filed a lawsuit against Chegg, Inc. for copyright infringement [Pearson sues former partner Chegg for copyright infringement (insidehighered.com)]. This suit [complaint.pdf (oandzlaw.com)] stems from the use of end of chapter and other materials from Pearson Education (one of the big three textbook publishers) textbooks as part of the Chegg Study website.
The Chegg Study website markets itself as a place for students to receive help on their homework, charging $14.95 per month to users, while hiring thousands of freelancers to provide solutions to end of chapter (and other) questions found in textbooks from all publishers. Pearson had previously made numerous requests, verbally, and in writing, for Chegg to remove the content alleged to be in violation of Pearson’s exclusive copyright. The suit alleges that the use of “Pearson’s original creative content…infringes Pearson’s exclusive rights as a copyright holder.” The use of Pearson’s content by Chegg spans a wide range, from verbatim copying end-of-chapter questions, using portions of Pearson’s original expression including fictitious facts in the problem stems, and repeating Pearson questions word-for-word in their video solutions. The suit, while protecting the intellectual property of Pearson, was also filed with authors in mind. “Pearson and its authors devote an enormous investment of time, money, and expertise to developing the world’s best learning content, including the end of chapter questions in our textbooks. We value that content, along with the people who create it and use it, which is why Pearson is acting to protect and preserve its assets” said Tim Bozik, President of Pearson’s higher education division. This action comes after a split between the two companies, where Chegg was used as the primary distributor for textbooks in the Pearson rental program.
Notably, the lawsuit alludes to complaints heard from many instructors regarding Chegg’s seemingly willful participation in academic integrity violations on campuses nationwide. As textbook questions are part of the learning experience, allowing students to simply copy and paste answers from their website lessens the use of these questions as pedagogical tools. In doing so, it undermines the efforts of instructors and diminishes the educational experience for all involved. The lawsuit points out an investigation that discovered that 48 out of 52 students interviewed for a Forbes magazine article use Chegg Study to cheat [This $12 Billion Company Is Getting Rich Off Students Cheating Their Way Through Covid (forbes.com)]. The use of Chegg as a cheating tool has become even more pronounced during the pandemic when students were forced to take classes and exams away from the classroom and the watchful eye of their instructors.
In 2020, Chegg reported $644 million in total revenue, with the largest portion coming from its sale of answers through Chegg study. As Chegg uses material from textbooks of all publishers, it will be interesting to see the ripple effects of this lawsuit in both the publishing and study guide industries.
Richard J. Mullins is a Professor of Chemistry at Xavier University and is working on a first edition organic chemistry textbook with Pearson Education. He started at Xavier after earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Indiana University in 2004. An award winning teacher, he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2010 and then to Professor in 2017. He currently serves as Chair of the Department of Chemistry. He has been actively involved in faculty governance at Xavier University, serving most recently as Chair of the Faculty Committee and on the University’s Rank and Tenure Committee.